How to Play Oh Hell

By Joe Andrews
Play Oh Hell

Oh Hell! is a classic card game that was popularized in the early 1900s. Custom thematic illustrated boxed sets (in bright red) were manufactured in the 1940s and '50s. Oh Hell! is known by many names, including: Elevator Whist, Up the River, German Bridge and Blackout. This is an excellent primer for teaching children the mechanics and basic strategy of trick taking games. It is also a great game for parties of family gatherings. Refer to separate article about the game of "WIZARD", which is the modern version of "Oh Hell".

Playing the Game

Playing Area

The best game is with four players. If you have five or six players, you will have to deal less cards per hand. If you have seven or eight players, split into two groups of four each or four and three persons at two tables, respectively.

Basic Facts

It is assumed that each player understands the trump aspect of the game, as well as the bidding and trick taking strategies. The object of the game is to bid accurately the number of tricks you think you will win for each hand. (The number of cards dealt for each hand will vary.)

Scoring

One person who is familiar with the rules is designated as the scorekeeper. The most popular method for scoring the game is to award each player who makes his bid exactly-a score of 10 points plus the number of tricks bid (e.g. a bid of four made "right on the nose" scores 10 points + 4 tricks for a total of 14 points for that hand) There are variations for scoring. If a player is "set" (does not make his bid due to taking too few or too many tricks) he scores zero points for that hand. (Always check house rules for scoring variations.)

The Deal

After the first dealer is determined, the hand #1 is dealt. Only one card is distributed to each player. The next card is turned over, as this is the trump suit for that hand (only). Trump always beats any side suit card, and higest trump wins any trick containing more than one trump. The second hand will feature two tricks, and the third hand will have three tricks, and so on. Each hand is increased by one trick progressively until all 13 cards are dealt. (Some circles prefer to then play another set of thirteen deals, this time going backwards from 13 cards per player all the way down to one card per player in reverse numerical order.)

Bidding

The opening bid commences with the player to the left of the dealer. Each player in succession, clockwise, then bids in order, with the dealer bidding last. A player must bid a number from zero to the number of tricks in play. There is no "pass" option. Here is the "Hook"-The dealer may not bid a number which would result in the total number of tricks bid to equal the number of tricks available. Thus, each hand is intentionally "over" or "underbid." It really gets dicey when you must determine if a low trump will win a trick, or if some middle card, such as six or seven could pin you with an unexpected trick.

Play of the Hand

The person to the left of the dealer now makes the opening lead (after the trump is determined). Suit must be followed, if possible. When there is more than one trick in play, a person on turn, may trump or discard if void in the suit led (and if a ruff or discard is a legal play). The player who wins the previous trick now leads to the next trick. The hand continues until all tricks have been played.

Scoring After Each Hand

When the hand has been played out, each participant informs the scorekeeper of his result. Somebody will be "set" or defeated for each hand, as there is no way to have everyone making their bid. The typical game of 13 hands should take about 50 minutes, depending on the skill of the players.

Variations

Some groups prefer to designate the 13 trick hand as "no trump," with high card of the suit led winning that trick. Others do not like the "hook" rule, and choose to allow the bid and the number of tricks in play to be equal. This makes it much easier for everyone to make their respective bids. Opening lead by the dealer is another option. Finally, a joker or two can be added to "jazz up" the game! Regardless of the choice of rules, it is important that everyone is familar with the "House Rules" for the game.